Career Terms to Know – 5 Key Definitions

I had the pleasure of being invited to the Graca Machel Trust to facilitate a learning session on Careers and Wellness for all the staff. As I do with most career conversations, I start by asking the person’s definition and understanding of career, career development, career planning and career management. Many equate career to their job and the annual goals the set for personal development and actions taken as career development. What has proved to be a useful starting point is helping people understand the world of work and careers through discussing 5 key terms. These are career development including the 5 career and life transitions, career management, career strategy, career planning and career management tactics. I conclude by sharing the value of knowing these terms when settings goals, making decisions and taking career actions.

 Your Career – what does it cover?

 In the blog aimed at helping people understand 5 key definitions from the world of work and careers, I defined what a career, occupation, job, profession, industry/sector is. Understanding the new definition of a career is critical, as you will see in the statement below.

 “Not so long ago, most people stayed in the same line of work for a lifetime. Back then, “career” was another word for “job.” The world has changed. Today, your career is the sum total of all your jobs (paid and unpaid), your education or learning activities and your life roles.” [source]

This expanded definition will require a mindset shift for one to fully grasp this and move away from the traditional definition of a career. In the latter, the perspective was to view only paid work or a job as a career and every type of work we do as personal and therefore separate and unrecognized as being part of one’s career. If this is how we define a career, what then is career development, career planning, career management and career transition. 

What is Career Development?

 The Canadian Standards and Guidelines for Career Development Practitioners define Career Development as, the lifelong process of managing learning, work and transitions in order to move toward your preferred future.” [source]

In my Career sessions I highlight that people need to pay attention to the terms that are in the definition. It is a “lifelong process” so when we talk about career development it is active and ongoing throughout our lives. Second is “managing”, this is about how you intentionally direct your career towards your goals and the future your want to have. The last part, “learning, work and transitions”, this highlights how, “career development is the mechanism by which learning (formal and informal), work (paid and unpaid) and the transitions between are navigated.” [source]

 Donald Super and the 5 Life and Career transitions

The transitions referred to in career development are both work and life transitions. They are best understood through the work of Donald Super whose career development model states that we go through 5 life stages, where our self-concept changes due to experience. At each transition stage you have to take different career actions, hence making it lifelong.  The stages are: growth (0-14 years), exploration (15-24 years), establishment (25-44 years), maintenance (44-64 years) and decline (65+ years). There is recognition that with changes due to technology and longevity of life, many are going back to other stages after the decline stage and changes are not always linear.

What is Career Management?

Career development is for life, it changes with each life stage, you need to be proactive and have methods for implementing this mechanism that manages your learning, work and transitions. This is where the other 4 key terms come in: career management, career strategy, career planning and career management tactics.

 “Career management is the combination of structured career planning and the active management choice of one’s own professional career using a particular career strategy and career tactics.” [source]

“Career management is a lifelong, self-monitored process of strategy, tactics and career planning that focuses on choosing and setting personal goals and formulating strategies for achieving them.” [source]

These three components of Career Management will be defined in turn.

  1. Career Strategy – adaptive approach or planned approach
  2. Career Planning
  3. Career Management Tactics

What is a Career Strategy – your approach?

 “Career strategy pertains to the individual’s general approach to the realization of career goals, and to the specificity of the goals themselves. Two general strategy approaches are adaptive and planned.” [source]

When you use an adaptive approach as a strategy to managing your career it means you are agile and adapt to the challenges and opportunities presented to develop your career. This does not mean one does not have career goals they are following. Whereas a planned approach is much more a step by step process, which does not mean the plans do not shift based on new data and opportunities.

What is Career Planning?

“Career planning is a practical way to manage the ongoing changes in your life and work. It helps you build on what you already have and think realistically about your priorities.”


Career planning has 4 common steps, but I have added 2 others (step 3 and 4) because of its importance today and in the future, “future thinking – preparing for the future of work – career and digital trends tracking” and “work-life integration – wellness and self-care”. These 6 steps are the foundation of most career decisions, plans and actions: The 6 steps are:

  1. Self-exploration – know yourself
  2. Decision-making – explore your occupational options and decide – career/job research
  3. Future thinking – prepare for the future of work – tracking career and digital trends
  4. Work-life integration – wellness and self-care considerations
  5. Planning – plan and take action
  6. Career Management – develop and manage your career

 These 6 steps are what form my EC Career Development Model, meaning they are the basis of my career services and learning programs.

A career plan will have smart goals and actions for achieving the plan. Since career development and management are lifelong processes it means you will continuously be following this career planning cycle as well, to manage important life and work decisions.

 What are Career Management Tactics?

 When you are clear about your career strategy/approach, and have developed a plan, you still need to take various actions using different tactics to manage or direct you career as desired.

 Career tactics are actions to maintain oneself in a satisfactory employment situation. Tactics may be more or less assertive, with assertiveness in the work situation referring to actions taken to advance one’s career interests or to exercise one’s legitimate rights while respecting the rights of others.


The various career management tactics include developing your career story, your career identity, building your personal profile, keeping your key career documents like CVs updated, networking, personal management through holistic life wellness, managing your social media footprint, being a thought leader, lifelong learning and preparing for the future of work.


 It is clear from the journey we have taken through explaining these 5 career terms that to develop and manage your career successfully is not an ad hoc process, but needs to be intentional and proactive. You need to know and understand these terms so that you are equipped to know how best to use them to your advantage. So when you are clear on what your career is, think about how you will develop it, manage it, using what career strategy/approach, how you will plan for it and the career management tactics you will use.

Ennie pictureBy: Ennie Chipembere Chikwema, Career Coach and Learning Expert


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